Review: After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet / March 1 / Detroit Opera House

By David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier (O.P.A.), B.A., M.S., M.D., D.A.B.F.M., D.A.B.I.M.

AFTER THE RAIN© (pas de deux)

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Music by Arvo Pärt, Staged by Jason Fowler, Costumes by Holly Hines, Lighting by Jack Mehler after Mark Stanley, Dancers April Daly and Miguel Blanco.

I attended a performance of the Joffrey Ballet on Saturday March 1, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at the Detroit Opera House, a programme that included the piece, AFTER THE RAIN, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to the music of Arvo Pärt. The way AFTER THE RAIN was presented was so stunningly beautiful that I was moved to review the piece to encourage as many as can, to see it. Set to the evocative score of Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror, literally), and done with exquisite costuming, AFTER THE RAIN is a whispered, tonal and dynamic exegesis on love. It is perhaps one of the more beautiful pas de deux ever choreographed, and April Daly and Miguel Blanco make it live. The choreography ostensibly shows the changing closeness and distance encapsulated by a loving relationship, with each dancer evincing their desire to understand the other’s heart and mind– a delicate and often timorous journey. There are heroic strains of love, often almost painterly impressions of reflective clarity, soft murmurs of frustration, times of introspective detachment, moments of isolated longing and a return to the vital life force of love. The Joffrey does this to perfection. The sculptural poise, counterbalance and overwhelming tenderness of feeling in each movement will grip any viewer’s heart in a deeply human way. The flawless use of the line, the masterful développé, the sublime attitudes and lyrical arabesques with eloquent lifts and dramatic transitions took this choreography beyond art and into the realm of spirituality. It is simply one of the most breathtaking pas de deux that I have ever seen.

Review: Joffrey Ballet / Detroit Opera House / March 1& 2, 2014

By Julie Gervais

The Joffrey Ballet brought a perfectly-balanced program to the Detroit Opera House last weekend, March 1 & 2. It was an affirmation of what has always mattered about ballet, and a strong indicator of why ballet will continue to matter no matter how many people have tried to stick a fork in it.

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet Chor. Jerome Robbins

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet
Chor. Jerome Robbins

The freshness of Jerome Robbins 1945 Interplay is untarnished by the years, but is now a kind of period freshness. Time has not subtracted a single bit of fun from this work. Its construction is so careful that it creates the impression of carefree whimsical play, bubbling over with the exuberance of the (soon to be) post-war American spirit.  The group (8 dancers) engages in friendly competitions, starts chain reactions, tries to outdo themselves and each other. They might be on the brink of adulthood or maybe just shy of it – old enough to play at sexual innuendo yet young enough to not take it too seriously. There’s a fun time travel aspect, as occasional flashes appear of the iconic style and choreography that would eventually blossom into West Side Story, still 12 years in the future. There is abundant nostalgia these days for what some call the ‘pre-ironic age’. Whether that ever really existed or not, the piece is easy to love.

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain, now one of Christopher Wheeldon’s worldwide signature works, is like one long breath. Its ability to capture and hold attention, using just the push and pull of emotional ties between two people, is a tribute to the power of dance. With his score, (Spiegel Im Spiegel, or Mirrors In The Mirror) Arvo Part proves that minimalist music can find a heart connection on what is, for most people, the first hearing. If perhaps Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili might have showed a bit more of the contrast between moments of closeness and moments of apart-ness, this was still a beautiful interpretation.

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Stanton Welch

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet.
Chor. Stanton Welch

The next piece was the blockbuster of the program. Stanton Welch’s Son Of Chamber Symphony is everything that is great about contemporary ballet. It opens against a projection of bold square architectural lines against low light. The ballerina’s saucer-style tutu, a creation made possible by 21st century fabric technology, holds its shape and flatters the leg line without the traditional frou-frou underlayers of supporting tulle and net. The men’s tunics honor and yet depart from tradition with a cutaway in the chest that reveals their – gasp! – chests. Anastacia Holden’s exquisite movement quality sets up the entire ballet – calm and confident, she owns it with a special fierceness that is often the claim of ballerinas whose proportions don’t necessarily reflect current ideals. The ballet takes on deconstruction of tradition as a sort of investigation. What if…we put ‘expected’ steps and shapes in a few unexpected places? Or unpacked the whole idea of a final climaxing pas de deux just to see what makes it tick, and whether it can tick differently? It’s fascinating and compelling and purposely funny at times, such as in the role-reversal promenade in which the ballerina in parallel bourree supported her man’s one-legged tour lente. Or when the principal ballerina makes her way slowly in a downstage diagonal through a sea of identically dressed women – latter-day shades or swans. It feels rich in imagery but austerely so, not opulent. Think Silicon Valley rather than Moscow. It is danced super clean and with an urgency that can give meaning to abstraction. It’s as though the dancers are hell-bent on sharing their acquired knowledge and insight into the music (John Adams’ work by the same name). This commitment to communicate is a key piece of the work’s success. There is much contemporary ballet that confuses an austere esthetic with emotional emptiness, or that fails to use movement to illuminate the music and the reason for the choreographer’s interest in it. Son Of Chamber Symphony is simply fabulous and deserves a long life on the stage.

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp’s crowd-pleasing Nine Sinatra Songs was the crowd-pleasing closer, a smart choice even though it’s not from her ‘best of’ collection. Some steps are re-used to the point of redundancy, some simply don’t work very well and the scale of it looked a little lonely on the DOH stage. But this 30-year old piece earns its place in permanent rotation through Tharp’s keen showmanship. Lucas Segovia deserves special mention for his comedy skills, hitting just the right notes to put a hilarious spin at just the right times. Everyone left with a song in their hearts.

 

Interview with Keith Saunders, Ballet Master of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Keith Saunders

by Julie Gervais

Dancepanorama had the opportunity to talk with Keith Saunders, Dance Theatre of Harlem Ballet Master, in advance of the Company’s arrival in Detroit for performances at the Detroit Opera House Feb 1, 2, and 3.

 

DP: It was shortly after the company’s visit to Detroit in 2004 that Dance Theatre of Harlem went on hiatus, suspending operations of the professional performing company. When dancers get injured, and rehabilitate, and then return to work, it’s an exciting time but a dancer is also changed by that process. Does the company feel something like that?

KS: It’s an interesting analogy – yes – we are changed by that process; we are strengthened by that process. There’s a renewal. We feel very much alive and excited to return to the national and international landscape. And the new Dance Theatre of Harlem is not the company of 2004. Almost all of the dancers are new, of course because eight years is almost an entire generation in the life of a ballet company. And there are other differences: one of the biggest being that the size of the company has gone from 44 dancers to 18, now. These dancers have been hand-picked from our second company, the DTH Ensemble, which has been touring nationally since 2009 [and visited Detroit during that time]. Some dancers have also been brought into the company from our national auditions.

DP: How many of your current 18 dancers remain from the pre-hiatus days?

KS: There are a couple of dancers on the current roster who were with us before, including one of our leading dancers, Ashley Murphy, who was an apprentice with DTH in 2004.

Ashley Murphy. Photo (c) Rachel Neville.

And Taurean Green was with us in 2004. He danced with other companies in the intervening years and now he’s back with us.

DP: What changes in repertory have resulted from the decreased size of the Company?

KS: Our Artistic Director, Virginia Johnson, did a very smart thing. Over the last three years, as we worked toward the return of the Company, and we’ve known for a while now that we were planning to go with 18 dancers, Virginia instituted a choreographic development program that she called ‘Harlem DanceWorks 2.0’. She invited choreographers in to develop, working with dancers we hired, new works that would form part of the rep of the new company. We are bringing one of the ballets that came out of this project to Detroit. It’s called ‘Far But Close’. It’s a narrative ballet, a contemporary love story of two people who meet in Harlem. Some of the other ballets we’ll be performing in Detroit have been developed just this season – world premiere ballets specifically for the company, or company premieres. We will be performing Alvin Ailey’s ‘The Lark Ascending’ – the first time any company other than the Ailey company will perform it – and this is the first time it’s being performed on pointe. We’re bringing two Balanchine ballets, his masterwork Agon [which was in Dance Theatre’s rep prior to hiatus], plus a lesser-known work: Glinka Pas de Trois, which dates from the 1950s and is a small gem of a work. We’re also bringing a Donald Byrd ballet called ‘Contested Space’, which was made on our second company last season and has been brought forward. Obviously right now we won’t do Giselle, or Serenade, or Four Temperaments…some of those bigger ballets that were staples of the former company, the size difference means we’re unable to do those now. So what Virginia has done is to develop ballets for this company at this size. We do retain some ballets from our previous repertoire.

‘Return’

‘Return’, by Robert Garland is one of these that we’ll be bringing to Detroit. It’s very popular and set to songs by James Brown and Aretha Franklin.

We’ll also be bringing the world premiere that Robert choreographed for us for this season, called ‘Gloria’ – a full-company ballet set to Francis Poulenc’s Gloria.

‘Gloria’ Photo (c) Matthew Murphy.

It was the first ballet seen when the company returned to the stage in October. We’re also bring the Swan Lake Act 3 Pas de Deux. So it’s a carefully selected balance; there are two complete programs. There are original ballets made on these dancers, there is repertoire from the former company, and there are company premieres. This is the Dance Theatre of the 21st century. We’re interested in continuing to grow and develop our dancers of course, but also interested in exploring the idea of what ballet in the 21st century means.

DP: In a recent interview, Virginia Johnson discussed the ongoing disparity between the diversity in our population and the diversity represented in ballet companies. How does DTH’s original mission fit into the 21st century?

KS: It’s still a necessity for DTH to have this sensibility. We’ve been having the same conversation for as long as I’ve been involved in ballet. I don’t that anyone has ever had a satisfactory answer, but if you look at ballet companies across America, it’s not really that different from what it was years ago; it’s frankly not that diverse. Dance Theatre’s mission to continue to provide opportunities for black dancers remains unchanged, and remains relevant.

DP: The fact that we’re still having this conversation – is it good, in a way? In the sense that, if we’re talking about it, we’re acknowledging that there remains work to be done.

KS: I don’t want to say it’s exactly the same as years ago – there is some more diversity now, but change is slow. There are so many factors that go into it. So yes, perhaps the fact that we’re still talking about it is good, in that we need to continue to make people aware. Particularly people who serve on Boards of Directors and as Artistic Directors, it’s important that they know that there is still an issue of inclusion.

DP: Thank you so much for carving time out of a busy schedule, and we’re looking forward to seeing you next week!

KS: We’re looking forward to being there!

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: NEW YORK CITY BALLET MOVES

October 27-28, 2012 at the Detroit Opera House

by Julie Gervais

Whether you’ve seen this company before or this was your first time, there is no mistaking the singular style and energy of the dancers in the New York City Ballet.

As much as any company in the world, this company embodies the city where it lives – edgy yet not self-conscious, supercharged but not frenetic, self-assured in its central position in the artistic universe. NYCB is pure New York.

They brought enough newer work to give Detroiters a taste of what bigger cities get to see on a regular basis, and enough NYCB ‘tradition’ to give a sense of the company’s lineage – an important consideration in light of the fact that their last visit here was in 1961. The full company numbers over 90 dancers; this touring group collects 16 of them from all of the ranks, plus their own musicians. It’s a welcome innovation.

Polyphonia. (Shown here danced by The Royal Ballet (c) Alice Pennefather)

They opened with Christopher Wheeldon’s breakthrough work from 2001, Polyphonia. His initial image is arresting: the dancers’ arms and legs make a surgically sharp sideways diagonal slice through the air. The women wear leotards of rich concord grape and the men sport the same color – this costuming being both in line with NYCB leotard-ballet tradition, and a half-step away from it. The bold and unexpected start turns out to be a harbinger, as the work turns up surprise after delightful surprise. Unusual shapes and movements flow freely and never feel forced or gimmicky, and they serve as a bridge to the musical world of Gyorgy Ligeti, perhaps foreign territory for some. Wheeldon paces the work so that even on first view, there is time to see what’s happening – and this reads as an easy confidence by an artist who doesn’t feel pressed to throw every last thing at the wall and see what sticks (a tendency with some contemporary choreographers). Maria Kowroski (of Grand Rapids) gets some of the juiciest bits, and brings a quiet but assured star power to everything she does. She has one of the most beautiful classical bodies of any woman working today, and seems to be at a point in her career where she wields her powers lightly, dazzling without ever seeming to be impressed with the effects she creates.

Duo Concertant was created by George Balanchine in 1972 – before our current age of

Duo Concertant

irony. The piece starts with the dancers standing near the onstage musicians – a pianist and a violinist – looking appreciative, admiring. Many have noted that this seems kind of hokey now, and it’s a relief when the dancers finally get to step away from their reverie and…dance. But there is a point – one that was very dear to Balanchine – which was that you must really listen to the music, really hear it and understand it, before you can dance to it. Megan Fairchild and Chase Finlay illustrated this concept with total commitment. The allegro movement is breathtakingly speedy, and it’s easy to imagine the dancers in the first cast feeling unsure whether this could be done. Subsequent generations of NYCB dancers now have this kind of speed in their DNA, but it’s still astonishing.

Herman Schmerman was created for NYCB in 1992 by William Forsythe, an American who has built an illustrious career in Germany. Schmerman has an exploratory feel to it, in its deconstruction of classical pas de deux and traditional partnering work. It’s fun and light, and seems to say that sometimes people just can’t figure out what’s going on in their relationships. Maria Kowroski and Robert Fairchild try one thing and then another, give up, walk away, come back to each other. In the end, they settle on a finger turn – kind of an inside joke for dancers, but the audience seemed to get it.

The last two pieces came from Peter Martins, the Company’s Artistic Director. It was exciting to see that Tiler Peck would dance the first, Zakouski. Ms. Peck made a name for herself even before she graduated, as a crack turner with a killer jump – not a typical combination of assets. Then she became NYCB’s youngest principal dancer. In Zakouski and everything she danced in Detroit, it’s clear she is almost superhuman in her technical assurance. But none of her roles here offered us the chance to see her really dig in, and Zakouski itself is kind of a perplexing mashup of classical ballet, folk dance, and experimental noodling.

Hallelujah Junction

Mr. Martins’ Hallelujah Junction, commissioned from its native son by the Royal Danish Ballet in 2001, really moves. It is jubilant and very, very busy with comings and goings, in the manner of Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room. Indeed the structure of delayed repetition between the two pianos (composed by John Adams) also feels similar to a Philip Glass work. It’s the biggest piece of the night in terms of personnel – eight corps dancers and three soloists, including Daniel Ulbricht, who brought this work the electricity it needed to come together. The fullness of his expression of each single step, and the clarity of shapes at lightning speed was thrilling. As much as anything we saw here, Junction was a good way to re-introduce New York City Ballet to a city that needed a re-introduction.

Thanks is due to Marlene Boll, Joanne Danto, and Nora Moroun for making these performances possible.

 

 

New York City Ballet MOVES Upcoming: Detroit Opera House Oct 27-28

Grand Rapids native Maria Kowroski, Principal Dancer with the NYCB, shown here in George Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’. This work isn’t on the upcoming Detroit program, but the photo shows some of the signature technical details that put NYCB in a league of its own in the ballet world.

By Julie Gervais

Puzzle: The USA is a big country. The New York City Ballet is the largest American dance organization. How do you share the magic of a ballet company with 90-some dancers and an active repertory of over 150 works?

Solution: Create ‘NYCB MOVES’ – a touring group that presents a selection of dynamic works from the company’s vast repertory. Performed by a group of NYCB dancers, including principals, soloists and members of the corps de ballet, each program features live music played by musicians from the NYCB orchestra.

Conclusion: Not only does this make abundant sense, it’s a tremendously exciting development for Detroit, considering that we’re on the tour schedule! NYCB MOVES will appear at the Detroit Opera House October 27-28. The last time New York City Ballet appeared in Detroit was…1961. We’ll try to dig up more info on that later. Meanwhile, enjoy this photo of Michigan’s own Maria Kowroski, Principal Dancer with NYCB, who is listed as  a member of the touring group. Casting and programming not yet available as of this writing, so stay tuned!!

Barcelona Ballet gives Detroit first look at its ‘Swan Lake’ [DETNEWS]

A breathtaking beauty is cursed by an evil sorcerer to swim a lake by day as a swan and to take human form only at night.

 

You’d think this would make finding true love rather difficult for a girl, but not when it comes to the ballet “Swan Lake.”

 

The Barcelona Ballet will perform the bittersweet love story at the Detroit Opera House Friday through Sunday.

For Full Article CLICK HERE The Detroit News